This week’s story is about a girl I grew up with. She lived in the neighborhood next to mine and we often found ourselves in the same classes from elementary school up to high school. There were always two things that I admired about Krista, her beauty and her kindness. In the 15 years that I have known her, I have never seen her be mean. She has always looked out for the underdog. Krista and I were the only two from Capital who chose to go to Utah State. So we continued to run into each other on campus and I was always excited to hear about what her future plans. As most of my readers know, I am a huge advocate for ending the r-word and sticking up for those with disabilities. Krista went out on a limb to stick up for her students and faced resistance from the administration. She also had a news story done by Maggie O’mara, you can see that here. Her story is inspiring, take the time to read it.
My story isn’t anything remarkable by any means…I haven’t solved world hunger or established world peace. I simply pursued my passion. I started as a social work major at Utah State University. My passion quickly shifted when I was introduced to a social work division specifically for people with disabilities. I knew I was meant to work in this unique population. I began teaching in a high school Extended Resource Room in Boise, Idaho in the fall of 2012. Like anyone else when they begin a new job, I was overwhelmed. There were many long nights at the school trying to get programs in place for my students and completing all the necessary paperwork. By the end of my first year teaching, I had learned the “ins and outs” of my profession and was ready to move forward full force by year two.
When you have spent time working with people with disabilities, you quickly learn how complicated their life can be. Things as easy as entering a building can be tricky when you are in a wheelchair. Many of my students are non-verbal… how frustrating it must be to not be able to express how you are feeling or what you need at that time. Many of my students desire to have normal friendships and relationships with their peers; however, their disability may prohibit them from doing so. I could go on and on about the daily challenges they face, but that would make for a depressing read. So knowing the challenges that they already face, I wanted to make a memorable night for them. A memorable night that each student in high school can participate in… Prom! Typically, students yearn for the day they get to dress up as their best self and enjoy a night out with their friends. Why would it be any different for a child with disabilities? I contacted people in the community to help. Hope Blooms, a local florist, willingly donated all the corsages and boutonnieres and Hawkes Motors donated the vehicles to transport the students. Both companies were extremely supportive when it came to helping our students.
Prior to Prom night, I was informed that two of our special education students had been nominated for Prom King and Queen. They were nominated based on the faculties input. A few days before Prom, I was approached by our school administration and they shared their concerns regarding the two special education students who were nominated. They expressed that they were nervous that our student body would not respond well to them and that they would be mocked instead of praised. I was told that our school was not ready for this and that I should have thought about our school as a whole. I left the office that day frustrated… If the student body wasn’t ready to welcome those students as their Prom King and Queen, we haven’t done our job as educators within the community and they needed to start being ready! I tried to put aside the concerns the administration had because I still wanted to create a magical night for the students, regardless of who won Prom King and Queen.
On the night of Prom, my staff and I set up stations around my classroom where the girls could come get their nails, hair, and make-up done together. A local photographer came to take formal pictures individually and as a group. After everyone was ready and pictures were taken, the staff and I drove the students to a local Italian restaurant for dinner. As a department, we truly wanted the students to feel like they got to experience Prom entirely.
While at Prom, our students danced and enjoyed the company of their peers. I briefly went up to dance with them and immediately noticed how mortified they were to have their teacher dancing with them. I couldn’t blame them… I knew the Macarena was not a cool dance move anymore. The time came to announce the winners of Prom King and Queen. The students formed two lines that ended at the stage where the sash and crowns were laid. To our surprise, BOTH our students were crowned Prom King and Queen! The student body chanted their names and applauded in celebration. I couldn’t have asked for a better student body to welcome our students.
I did not write this hoping for praise for a job well done regarding Prom. I wrote this to advocate for those unique individuals. Sometimes as a society, we get caught up in our own lives and the politics of everything and we forget about the important things. People with disabilities deserve to have the same opportunities as anyone else. They have wants and dreams just as you and I do. They desire to be a part of their community and I hope that our community will embrace that special opportunity. Each of my students has changed me for the better and I am eternally grateful to each of them.